Monday, February 27, 2012

It's the data ...

My earlier forecasts of a hybrid world, based on the flexibility inherent within HP’s BladeSystem are closer to realization and that user acceptance may be driven by our needs to more easily and cost-effectively pursue data integration.

In a recent posting to another blog I opened with a storyline about my affinity for the open road. I have developed a preference for driving and am now very familiar with the more popular motels along the way, and given a Friday afternoon departure, come Sunday evening I could be anywhere including San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, even Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Flying is no longer fun and the sense of adventure long gone – we all lost something following September 11th, 2001, and I get the sense we will never again enjoy the freedoms once so readily accepted as just part of everyday life.

So now, meet the new mobile command center of Pyalla Technologies, as we opt for something a little more to our liking than we typically find at motels. Parked temporarily in the driveway, is the new RV and Margo and I are busily engaged in fitting it out in a style suitable for both, event participation, such as HP Discover, as well as the many weekends we spend promoting Pyalla Technologies at road courses around the countryside. The picture above is of us both after we had closed the deal. More about this latest development will follow shortly in a separate posting to the blog, Buckle-Up-Travel.

However, out on the highways, it’s not just about the motels. There are plenty of other things to be concerned about as you proceed to your destination. Anyone who has had to traverse Los Angeles and been forced to “jump” freeways – connecting with the needed exit from the correct lane, all the while watching everyone else trying to kill you (as they clearly appear to be doing from my vantage point behind the wheel), knows of the risks involved and how to do so as non-disruptively as possible takes years of practice and an iron-clad sense of immortality.

A modern RV is very much a hybrid – anyone who has attempted to lift up the user-manuals provided by the manufacturers quickly becomes aware that this is not a vehicle that is quickly mastered. And there is little opportunity to learn as you go when you pull away from the dealer’s parking lot. A modern RV is built on a truck frame – and this chassis comes complete with its own set of manuals. Everything electrical, for instance, is 12 volts DC. But then a modern RV is also a home – and the accommodation element is similarly supported with another set of manuals, this time, everything electrical, for instance, is 110 volts AC.

Early observations suggests that nothing should work seamlessly together and yet, driving down the highway, it all seems to work just fine with the driver so effectively shielded from the complexity implicit in managing multiple systems concurrently. As I paged through the documents I had been provided I couldn’t help thinking about the convergence that had to have gone on behind the scenes to make it all work, and of how a series of monitoring systems were taking the guess work out of which button to press – yes, if the RV was moving, it made sense for the refrigerator to use battery power and not to switch to propane gas!

In the post of August 11th, 2011, “GuardianAngel? NonStop revels in Clouds!” I wrote about how I continue to speculate about the future of NonStop and that I had a strong sense that the industry is turning ever so slightly and pursuing a course where the capabilities of NonStop will come to the fore. As I wrote that post I once again mused about what I sensed was a return to what NonStop has always proved effective at doing; shielding imperfection behind a level of availability simply not matched in any other manner.

The focus of this post had been the GuardianAngel demonstration, performed at the 2011 HP Discover event, that I had found most intriguing and where I suggested how this was something that’s exciting and is now out there, demonstrable. End users working with NonStop solutions, developed using modern standards that leveraged open interfaces, were unaware that NonStop was leveraging private as well as public cloud resources to offset unexpected loads making extraordinary demands on NonStop resources.

One of the products that had been used in the demonstration had been the database and underlying message environment of newcomer, uCIRRUS, and I was reminded of the post I wrote following an email exchange I had with uCIRRUS CEO, Peter Richards. I must admit, I have been very impressed with what uCIRRUS has accomplished with their product XPRESSmp and how as an in-memory database, it was able to front-end NonStop SQL/MX for the GuardianAngel demonstration in an extremely abbreviated timeframe. As a kind of continuous ingest and load front-end, it was XPRESSmp interacting with the potential myriad array of sources including social network feeds, RSS feeds, even items such as web logs, as well as other data streams, structured or unstructured.

Richards provided me with more information as we discussed a possible future play of uCIRRUS as part of HP's mission-critical x86 roadmap announced with Project Odyssey back in November, 2011, but given uCIRRUS ability to easily port its parallel software processor XPRESSmp to other chipsets - such as Itanium – would provide a kind of “standards compliant, systems level, micro-cloud providing uniformity of environment of those chipsets at the OS systems level thereby enabling commonality and / or connectivity of application environments, in addition to an unprecedented scale-up of multicore efficiency,” according to Richards, effectively shielding the layers above the micro-cloud from potential complexities that could arise with the presence of multiple chipsets.

Throw into this mix how the product XPRESSmp is being targeted towards time-critical Big Data, there clearly could be some advantages to the NonStop community as we all come up to speed with where Converged Infrastructure, Project Odyssey 's mission-critical x86 offerings and Cloud Computing are all headed – greater exploitation of the one platform; the HP BladeSystem.

For nearly five years I have been extolling the benefits of hybrid clusters, all within the same box – mixing NonStop with HP-UX or Linux and even Windows. And now with Project Odyssey, and with x86 chipset supported in the same chassis as HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop, my vision for NonStop may be realized. There's still a ways to go, of course, but I have to believe that at some point, something along these lines is likely to appear. After all as far as connectivity goes, in the heterogeneous environments we have today, outside of any single chassis NonStop continues to play well with others!

But what applications will be first to exploit this hybrid capabilities? I have often been asked this question and the push-back (on potential benefits) I have received has centered on whether with the potential hybrid nature of Project Odyssey – is this really a solution looking for a problem.

However, in the discussions and emails I have had with Richards, and more recently with Justin Simonds of HP, where we covered micro-clouds, Big Data, unstructured data, etc. I saw a distinct possibility that those asking these questions may have overlooked the obvious. It’s all about the data and perhaps less about the business logic! “The idea of a loosely federated group of systems makes sense,” suggested Simonds as we looked at why we would want to have a hybrid configuration within the HP BladeSystem.

“Expect to have Vertica, say in support of Big Data, Autonomy for Unstructured Data, NonStop SQL/MX for ODS / Operational BI, maybe a legacy style Data Warehouse on Unix – all platforms are best-of-breed in their respective areas,” added Simonds. “Furthermore, imagine a smart front-end router, in particular uCIRRUS with XPRESSmp, that could also analyze queries as they arrived and ensure they made it to the right platform. Furthermore, should data need to get from say NonStop to Vertica then uCIRRUS (given its massive ingest, broadcast and data stream analysis capabilities) also provides the massive load support needed.”

Now there will be other products that will be able to play here and about that I have no doubt; what this highlights for me is that there will be real requirements to move data. Just as there will be real requirements for monitoring solutions to step up and oversee this movement of data as happening on just a single entity. Make it too complex and it will simply prove too difficult to “drive”. uCIRRUS with XPRESSmp may hide the differences of the chipsets just as the HP BladeSystem will simplify the infrastructure, but NonStop may end up overseeing it all, 24 X 7 and scalable in ways that make other architectures envious.

Shielding complexity has been a feature of NonStop for decades – one of the lesser-known attributes of NonStop, perhaps. HP’s one platform, the BladeSystem, is only going to make greater shielding even more imperative. And perhaps it is the potential conflagration of data that is arising all around us that will add the impetus to greater reliance on NonStop. Given the opportunity to be behind the wheel of that system could prove to be even more attractive than anything we could come across on any highway!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A head start on Vegas!

The chance to exchange emails with Martin Fink helped firm up my perspective on Project Odyssey and the news looks good for the NonStop community …

What is it about the business trips that I take to Southern California at this time of the year, particularly when they include a lay-over in Las Vegas? Is it the glamor of the strip? The warm weather that comes as such a relief following winters chills here, in Colorado? Or is it that with the holiday season well and truly behind us we start to think about what’s coming next?

I have always been a slow starter at this time of year and I usually spend weekends catching up on my reading – books, magazines, as well as lots of blog postings that I had put to one side. There was a lot of variety as in among the usual car and motorcycle magazines, travel and vacation newsletters, etc. was the recent issue of The Connection together with several press clippings from a number of electronic publications that I had printed.

The picture above was just taken on the strip, looking back at the Venetian and the Palazzo hotels where this year’s HP Discover will be held and the contrast with some of the photos included in November and December posts couldn’t be greater – winter’s ice and snow had become little more than a distant memory. And for the NonStop community, the recent headlines about HP may be having a similar effect.  Even with my slow start to the year, what I saw in these stories assured me that HP was making all the right moves.

The headlines I am referring to appeared late last year as the news of HP’s embracing the Intel  x86 architecture – a project that HP called Odyssey. In the post of November 22, 2011, on the site eWeek mobile, Burt told readers that HP’s Odyssey project will “innovate on the current high-end HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop solutions and Integrity servers running on Intel's Itanium processing platform, while also developing blade servers powered by Intel's Xeon chips that can run mission-critical applications that call for high availability, scalability and reliability within Microsoft Windows and Linux environments.”

Just a day later, on November 23, 2011, there was a similar post in the ServerWatch section of the electronic publication, ITBusinessEdge, “HP to Unify Unix and x86 Server Architectures.” Reporter Thor Olavsrud quoted HP Senior Vice President and General Manager of Business Critical Systems (BCS), Martin Fink, as having said “clients have been asking us to expand the mission-critical experience that is delivered today with HP-UX on Integrity to an x86-based infrastructure. HP plans to transform the server landscape for mission-critical computing by using the flexibility of HP BladeSystem and bringing key HP technology innovations from Integrity and HP-UX to the x86 ecosystem."

Reporter Olavsrud then quoted IT hardware and data networking analyst with ISI Group, Brian Marshall, “Project Odyssey in our view is the right vision and strategy but is long-term in nature and will take about two years to materialize. We view this as another example in recent weeks of HP leverage strong internal assets (e.g., Integrity servers, NonStop systems, HP-UX, etc.) for compelling organic R&D."

Innovate on the current high-end HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop solutions! Transform the server landscape for mission-critical computing by using the flexibility of HP BladeSystem! Not to mention, leverage strong internal assets (e.g., Integrity servers, NonStop systems, HP-UX, etc.) for compelling organic R&D! Innovate, transform, leverage – all powerful stuff when it comes to this latest program of HP that will give us “Intel's Xeon chips that can run mission-critical applications that call for high availability, scalability and reliability!”

For those who may not be familiar with the landscape between Boulder, Colorado, and Las Vegas, Nevada, there are many summits that need to be crossed – outside Denver, the Continental Divide has to be climbed, then Vail Summit, too, has to be traversed. Then it’s a twisting passage along the Colorado River for the descent into Glenwood Springs. But on entering Utah, there’s another series of passes before you descend into a rich and fertile valley that runs south into Nevada. The final stretch into Las Vegas kicks off with another spectacular canyon passage that cuts through a small corner of Arizona before dropping you into the deserts of Nevada. So much variety in less than a thousand miles with a landscape that changes as you round each turn!

As cliché-rich as this description is, it’s hard not to make comparisons with the journey NonStop has taken ever since HP became involved. Much of what I have posted to this blog to do with my own predictions of where NonStop is headed hasn’t turned out to be completely accurate and yet, some of these forecasts from as far back as four years ago still hold up. Among the most persistent of my predictions is that the commoditization journey will eventually lead us to where all BCS platforms will     be based on the same components.

In the post of February 12, 2008, “‘
MyWish’ for NS Blades”,  to Real Time View, I acknowledged how I believed that HP would ship NS Blades sometime mid-to-late summer that they would utilize the c-Class blade enclosure (BladeSystem c7000), and I said that  my first wish was to see HP BCS deliver on the slide-ware Martin Fink first unveiled as the “Shared Infrastructure Blades” package at the previous year’s HPTF&E event. In the post of February 13, 2011, “Threeyears on, and three more wishes!” I returned to this topic, this time suggesting that I would like to see a chassis populated with commodity blades that are physically identical, and which can run any operating system we chose, including NonStop. So here it is, February a year later, and it’s time for another update on where I see this all headed.

Among the commentaries there were public statements made by HP in November, including one press release that stated quite simply how “HP’s new development roadmap includes ongoing innovations to HP Integrity servers, HP NonStop systems and the HP-UX and OpenVMS operating systems. The roadmap also includes delivering blades with Intel® Xeon® processors for the HP Superdome 2 enclosure (code name “DragonHawk”) and the scalable c-Class blade enclosures (code named “HydraLynx”), while fortifying Windows® and Linux environments with innovations from HP-UX within the next two years.”

It may be winter, and I may still be slow, but it’s hard to miss just how important the HP BladeSystem has become for the NonStop community and how important a role the c-Class Enclosure is playing. HP literature at the time of the announcement of the NB54000c provided even more clarity when it said “The NB54000c is built on the proven HP Integrity BL860c i2 (blade) using the standard HP c-Class Enclosure c7000 (chassis) to host NonStop server blades”

Yes, the BladeSystem points to a future of even greater exploitation of commodity components and packaging. The only thing that will distinguish one blade from another will be the all-important mezzanine card in support of the connectivity to the (internal) networking fabric – in the case of NonStop, this will continue to be ServerNet for a little while longer.

While much has been made about the all-inclusiveness of Project Odyssey particularly as it relates to x86 becoming an integral part of the mission-critical portfolio from BCS, it should be remembered, according to Martin Fink, that "Project Odyssey isn't just about x86 but about our continuing investment in HP-UX, OpenVMS, Integrity (based on the Intel Itanium processor) and NonStop. When viewed all together, particularly should you be using NonStop, this represents great investment protection - a message I am sure all of the NonStop community must appreciate."

And with the continued exploitation of commodity components and packaging will come less footprint, and indeed always-significant improvements in price performance reflected in possible decreases in pricing in selected marketplaces. Yes, it is all suggesting that the steps I had predicted are now being taken and that being able to mix and match blades in the same enclosure is becoming a reality! Not that we will have the capability to run NonStop on x86 or Windows on Itanium quite yet, and possibly not at all, but having just a single enclosure to house all our blades is a great next step for all HP customers.

I have a sense, however, that we are just only seeing the beginning of further transformations. Innovation is thriving within HP, and yes, strong internal assets will continue to be leveraged. Winter will soon pass and spring will be upon us, and for those who have checked out all that’s been written of late by me, not only has the ice and snow been melting, but we are beginning to see things more clearly.

 As for the next time I pass through Las Vegas it will be for HP Discover and I can’t wait to hear what HP has in stall for us when next we all meet! As for me, I will be the one carrying a stack of “Fools for NonStop” shirts, that’s for sure!!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Partnerships built to last …

Once proud companies join forces and partner on product design. But sometimes, it doesn’t always work out. However, the partnership between one of them and the HP NonStop Server appears to be on a much stronger footing …

It was a little over a year ago, January 28th, 2011, that I posted to this blog the story “About that data ...”  where I suggested that NonStop servers and Mercedes Benz cars have something in common, and it’s not always visible. No, it has nothing to do with pricing! NonStop is heading towards being a pure software play and it’s all about the “stack” – and this introduction was simply a way to the NonStop community that NonStop systems aren’t just about the hardware. NonStop systems are about the collection of layers that in combination make a complete stack that leverages it all, I wrote back then.

And since I wrote those words, there has been a lot more written on this subject by others and for the NonStop community, it’s beginning to make a lot more sense. Much of this has to do with how we value the fundamentals that differentiate NonStop from other vendors’ servers – availability, scalability,data integrity and more so these days, security – even as NonStop continues on its transformation journey enjoying being as modern as any other server on offer today. Whether we continue to see NonStop as a badge attached to the front of a chassis, or simply the title on an operator’s console, it seems to mater less these days and it's looking to me a lot like a partnership between the NonStop software and whatever is “the platform” of HP!

In the garage this morning I was checking on the condition of the cars attached to battery trickle chargers a very common situation at this time of year. Following a couple of days of sunshine, snow returned overnight so the potential of taking a short drive this evening had to be shelved. But lifting the hood of our SRT/10 roadster, pictured above and before the snow returned, I could easily read the badge fastened to the Viper’s firewall – DaimlerChrylser Corporation. Yes for a few short years, the SRT/10 was an integral part of the Mercedes Benz portfolio!

Just how integral? A few years ago as Mercedes Benz launched its then-latest supercar, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG supercar. A post of June 18th, 2010, to Yahoo Voices “Automotive” suggested that in hindsight “it seems that what we now know as the SLS AMG started life as a replacement for the Dodge Viper supercar.” According to author, Vlad Balan, “Dodge engineers knew that a replacement was needed as the Viper had been around for ages without a major overhaul … but then the financial problems started plaguing Chrysler. Daimler packed up all of its things (and) the plans to the supercar were also taken. In the end, it seems that while Dodge had an integral role in the supercar project, the only model to come out of it was the new Mercedes Benz SLS AMG.”

Alliances and partnerships are common within the auto industry and sometimes, they raise an eyebrow or two. And when it comes to computers we have to pause on occasion too and wonder about the merits from some of the partnerships that arise. Microsoft buys Skype and yes, Skype runs on the latest Apple tablets and phones, and yes, you would usually turn to one of the mobile phone operators to buy the Apple. Now, who wins out on that one?  And then of course, who can forget the tie-up between Silicon Graphics and Cray Research – from a technology perspective we pretty much could connect the dots but you did have to worry about the sales folks. At the time, Cray ran on Sun Sparc chips so who knows what SGI intended but four years later, SGI sold off its Cray division!

Without Chrysler, Mercedes Benz has returned to doing what it does best - producing a line of luxury cars.  For those who have visited the Mercedes Benz factory in Stuttgart, there is little doubt about the efforts spent on ensuring each Mercedes Benz is as well-engineered and as well assembled as is possible and watching them leave the factory floor even less doubt that they will be much cherished by their owners. I have visited Sindelfingen, a large Mercedes Benz assembly plant near Stuttgart, several times and after each visit, I have wondered whether the time was right to buy a Mercedes Benz for myself.

Mercedes Benz has enjoyed a partnership with NonStop for many decades – they were a key participant in the SNAX/CDF beta program in 1987. For a time they ran all of their factory terminals configured as remote devices, rather than as local devices, so that they could deploy physical switched between the NonStop systems and the racks of modems. A simply pull of a switch and the network would continue running on the back-up NonStop system – a predecessor to the functionality that is now an integral part of modern routed-IP networks. When I asked Mercedes Benz all those years ago, with the assembly-line model they had at the time which were the most critical applications, running on NonStop, the quick answer given was seats – after all, what can you do with the cars if there’s no seats to install!

But assembly models keep evolving and when I related this exchange with folks who continue have close ties to the factory, the response came back “if for instance the Sindelfingen factory was running out of say, black sports seats (with medium leather quality and seat memory functionality) for their E-class sedans, and a truck broke down so that those seats couldn’t be delivered in time, then Sindelfingen would not build any E-class cars with black sports seats with medium leather quality and seat memory functionality that day.”

Demonstrating the flexibility that Mercedes Benz has today, I was told that instead “they would build other E-class cars, for instance with black sports seats coming with basic or premium leather quality - you get the picture? Car orders would simply be rescheduled accordingly.” For manufacturing Mercedes Benz runs software from Abat+ (www.abatplus.de) that runs on NonStop and today, these same folks close to Mercedes Benz informed me of how Mercedes Benz “have a NonStop system in each of their car assembly plants worldwide - even for the Smart micro-car!”

But what of running such mission critical applications on platform other than NonStop? “What’s the added value of NonStop versus the Windows server?” came the response. “Well, if a Windows server broke down and its backup did not come up properly or even worse, if that Oracle database crashed and got corrupted – then there would be real stress at the assembly line!” With the transformation of NonStop that continues and where today, NonStop shares much of its hardware with all other HP servers, the costs of deploying NonStop has dropped significantly to where industry-standard servers, replicated and clustered, would be hard pressed to match the capabilities of NonStop for the same or lesser price.

In a few weeks’ time I am off to New York to attend the New York International Auto Show where there will be a new SRT/10 unveiled – this time, the fruits from a partnership between Fiat and Chrysler. I will give it a look, certainly, but the stakes will be high. And Viper owners worldwide are already pensive about the outcome. Partnerships are important and when they work well, the benefits are immediate and appreciated by all. 
For more than two decades the partnership between Mercedes Benz and NonStop has held firm. With so much at stake, there’s little patience for anything other than engineering perfection. At home in these factories, NonStop seems such a logical fit that it continues to surprise me that so few within the NonStop community realize the contribution NonStop makes. Day in and day out! And completely true to form – 24 X 7!